Unix/Linux Tutorial

This document is a short introduction for new users to unix/linux. Much of the information in this tutorial was obtained from Treebeard's Unix Cheat Sheet. in the examples you type the command after the dollar sign $ in your Terminal Window. The output of the command is shown on the next line(s).

The Basics

Help on any Unix Command

Getting help is one of the most important things you will need to take from this tutorial. At any point you wish to learn more about any single command you can use the following tools.

Tool Description
man {command} Type man ls to read the manual for the ls command.
whatis {command} Give short description of command.
info {command} Long description of command

Example (to quit 'man' command hit the letter 'q', page down with arrow keys):

$ man ls
LS(1) User Commands LS(1)
ls - list directory contents
ls [OPTION]... [FILE]...
List information about the FILEs (the current directory by default).
Sort entries alphabetically if none of -cftuSUX nor --sort.

Terminal Window

This is where you type all these fun commands, opening a new terminal window is slightly different on each GUI platform. Here are some of the most common ones.

  • Redhat (ECE Lab Machines): Applications > System Tools > Terminal
  • Ubuntu: Applications > Accessories > Terminal
  • MacOS: Applications > Utilities > Terminal


Manage Directories

Change Directories

To move around the filesystem you will need to familiarize yourself with these commands. cd or change directory

Command Description
pwd Show your current directory
cd {dirname} There must be a space between.
cd Go back to home directory, useful if you're lost.
cd ~ Like cd by itself takes you to your home directory
cd .. Go back one directory.


$ pwd
$ cd Directory1
$ pwd
$ cd
$ pwd

Make a New Directory

Command Description
mkdir {dirname} Make a new directory with the name {dirname}

Remove a Directory

Command Description
rmdir {dirname} Only works if {dirname} is empty.
rm -r {dirname} Remove all files and subdirs. Careful!

Managing Files

List Files

Display a list of files in your current directory or in {path}

Command Description
ls {path} It's ok to combine attributes, eg ls -laF gets a long listing of all files with types.
ls -l {path} Long listing, with date, size and permisions.
ls -a {path} Show all files, including important .dot files that don't otherwise show.
ls -F {path} Show type of each file. "/" = directory, "*" = executable.
ls -R {path} Recursive listing, with all subdirs.
ls {path} > {filename} Redirect directory to a file.
ls {path} | less Show listing one screen at a time.


$ ls -laF
drwx-----x 23 user group 8192 2008-02-12 13:49 ./
drwxr-xr-x 142 user group 24576 2008-03-05 08:42 ../
-rw-r--r-- 1 user group 7475 2006-12-08 13:25 afile.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 user group 3583 2007-02-02 13:07 anotherfile.txt
drwx------ 3 user group 8192 2007-09-17 08:46 Directory1/
drwxr-xr-x 2 user group 4096 2006-08-17 13:04 Directory2/

Copy a File or Directory

Command Description
cp {file1} {file2} Copy file1 to file2.
cp -p {file1} {file2} Copy file1 to file2 with the same permissions.
cp -r {dir1} {dir2} Recursive, copy directory and all subdirs.
cat {newfile} >> {oldfile} Append newfile to end of oldfile.

Move/Rename a File

Command Description
mv {oldfile} {newfile} Moving a file and renaming it are the same thing.


$ ls -F
$ mv file1 file2
$ ls -F
$ mv file2 Directory/
$ cd Directory
$ ls

Delete a File

Command Description
rm {file} ? and * wildcards work like DOS should. "?" is any character; "*" is any string of characters.
rm -i {file} Prompts you to confirm the removal of {file} useful when using the wildcard *

View a Text File

Command Description
more {filename} View file one screen at a time.
less {filename} Like more, with extra features.
cat {filename} View file, but it scrolls.

Edit a Text File

Command Description
pico {filename} The same editor PINE uses, so you already know it.
vi {filename} Advanced text editor refer to the wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vi
emacs {filename} Semi Advanced text editor refer to the wikipedia article:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emacs

Create a New File

Command Description
cat > {filename} Enter your text (multiple lines with enter are ok) and press control-d to save.
pico {filename} Create some text and save it.
touch {filename} Creates a empty file which you can then edit. Refer to Edit a Text File.

Compare two files

Command Description
diff {file1} {file2} Show the differences.
sdiff {file1} {file2} Show files side by side.

Other Useful Text Commands

Command Description
grep '{pattern}' {file} Find regular expression in file.
sort {file1} > {file2} Sort file1 and save as file2.
sort -o {file} {file} Replace file with sorted version.
spell {file} Display misspelled words.
wc {file} Count words in file.

Advanced Information

Wildcards and Shortcuts

* Match any string of characters, eg page* gets page1, page10, and page.txt.
? Match any single character, eg page? gets page1 and page2, but not page10.
[...] Match any characters in a range, eg page[1-3] gets page1, page2, and page3.
~ Short for your home directory, eg cd ~ will take you home, and rm -r ~ will destroy it.
. The current directory.
.. One directory up the tree, eg ls ...


Pipes and Redirection

Pipes and Redirection are useful tools to chain commands together to do complex operations. They are usually for advanced users but some uses are very simple and hard to live with out.

{command} > {file}
Redirect output to a file, eg ls > list.txt writes directory to file.

{command} >> {file}
Append output to an existing file, eg cat update >> archive adds update to end of archive.

{command} < {file}
Get input from a file, eg sort < file.txt

{command} < {file1} > {file2}
Get input from file1, and write to file2, eg sort < old.txt > new.txt sorts old.txt and saves as new.txt.

{command} | {command}
Pipe one command to another, eg ls | more gets directory and sends it to more to show it one page at a time.

File Permissions

Unix permissions concern who can read a file or directory, write to it, and execute it.

  • 'r' = read
  • 'w' = write
  • 'x' = execute (for directory or programs)

Consider one of the examples from List Files above:

$ ls -l
-rw-r--r-- 1 user group 7475 2006-12-08 13:25 afile.txt
drwx------ 3 user group 8192 2007-09-17 08:46 Directory1/

The permissions on this file are displayed in the first column -rw-r--r--:

|||||||+++--- World Permission (rwx)
||||+++-------Group Permission (rwx)
|+++----------User(owner) Permission (rwx)
+-------------File Type "d" = directory '-' = file 'l' = Symbolic link

The other columns are as follows:

1 user group 7475 2006-12-08 13:25 afile.txt
(*) (owner) (group) (size) (last modified date) (filename)

* Number of symbolic links to this file

You can change file permissions with letters:

  • 'u' = user (yourself)
  • 'g' = group
  • 'o' = world
  • 'a' = everyone

chmod u+rw {file}
Give yourself read and write permission

chmod u+x {file}
Give yourself execute permission.

chmod a+rw {file}
Give read and write permission to everyone. (Use this with caution!)

chmod o-rwx {file}
Remove read, write and execute from world


$ ls -l afile.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 user group 7475 2006-12-08 13:25 afile.txt
$ chmod u+x afile.txt
$ ls -l afile.txt
-rwxr--r-- 1 user group 7475 2006-12-08 13:25 afile.txt
$ chmod o-r afile.txt
$ ls -l afile.txt
-rwxr----- 1 user group 7475 2006-12-08 13:25 afile.txt

System Info

Command Description
date Show date and time.
df Check system disk capacity.
du Check your disk usage and show bytes in each directory.
more /etc/motd Read message of the day, "motd" is a useful alias..
printenv Show all environmental variables.
quota -v Check your total disk use.
top Check out processes that are running on the machine.
uptime Find out systems uptime info.
w Who's online and what are they doing?

How to Make an Alias

An alias lets you type something simple and do something complex. It's a shorthand for a command. If you want to type "dir" instead of "ls -l" then type alias dir 'ls -l'. The single quotes tell Unix that the enclosed text is one command. The command to create an alias differs on each shell.

The ECE default shell is bash which will automatically read aliases that are in your .bash_aliases file. The tcsh shell will read the .csh_aliases file.

Example of a .bash_aliases file (bash, sh and ksh use this format):

# alias {alias name}="{command}"
alias ls="ls -F"
alias ll="ls -lah"
alias ssh="ssh -X"
alias mroe="more"
alias vi="vim"

Example of a .csh_aliases file (csh and tcsh use this format):

# alias {alias name} "{command}"
alias ll "ls -la"
alias dir "ls -la | less"
alias rm "rm -i"

How to Make a Script

A Unix script is a text file of commands that can be executed, like a .bat file in DOS. Unix contains a powerful programming language with loops and variables that I don't really understand. Here's a useful example.

Unix can't rename a bunch of files at once the way DOS can. This is a problem if you develop Web pages on a DOS machine and then upload them to your Unix Server. You might have a bunch of .htm files that you want to rename as .html files, but Unix makes you do it one by one. This is actually not a defect. (It's a feature!) Unix is just being more consistent than DOS. So make a script!

Make a text file (eg with pico) with the following lines. The first line is special. It tells Unix what program or shell should execute the script. Other # lines are comments:

#! /bin/csh
# htm2html converts *.htm files to *.html
foreach f ( *.htm )
set base=`basename $f .htm`
mv $f $base.html

Save this in your home directory as htm2html (or whatever). Then make it user-executable by typing chmod u+x htm2html. After this a * will appear by the file name when you ls -F, to show that it's executable. Change to a directory with .htm files and type ~/htm2html, and it will do its stuff.

Think about scripts whenever you find yourself doing the same tedious thing over and over.

Dotfiles (aka Hidden Files)

Dotfile names begin with a "." These files and directories don't show up when you list a directory unless you use the -a option, so they are also called hidden files. Type ls -la in your home directory to see what you have.

Some of these dotfiles are crucial. They initialize your shell and the programs you use, like autoexec.bat in DOS and .ini files in Windows. rc means "run commands". These are all text files that can be edited, but change them at your peril. Make backups first!

Here's some of what I get when I type ls -laF:

.addressbook     my email addressbook.
.cshrc     my C-shell startup info, important!
.gopherrc     my gopher setup.
.history     list of past commands.
.login     login init, important!
.lynxrc     my lynx setup for WWW.
.pinerc     my pine setup for email.
.plan     text appears when I'm fingered, ok to edit.
.profile     Korn shell startup info, important!
.project     text appears when I'm fingered, ok to edit.
.signature     my signature file for mail and news, ok to edit.
.tin/     hidden dir of my tin stuff for usenet.
.ytalkrc     my ytalk setup.

DOS vs UNIX Commands

change directory cd cd
change file protection attrib chmod
compare files comp diff
copy file copy cp
delete file del rm
delete directory rd rmdir
directory list dir ls
edit a file edit pico
environment set env
find string in file find grep
help help man
make directory md mkdir
move file move mv
rename file ren mv
show date and time time date
show disk space chkdsk df
show file type cat
sort data sort sort